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Letter to the Church in Ephesus

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent. ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-7)

Today we are going to look at the first letter to the Churches given to the Apostle John in his vision given to him by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the Isle of Patmos. The first letter was addressed to the Church in Ephesus so first we will look at the place this first letter was addressed to.

Ephesus was a prominent city and the gateway to Asia Minor and is located in modern-day Turkey. Ephesus was a religious city as it was the center for the worship of Diana the Mother of the gods in 480 BC. The temple that was erected for her was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple to Diana was destroyed in 263 AD and only the foundation remains. Ephesus is believed to be founded by the Amazons around 2000 BC.

Today, the ruins of Ephesus is a major tourist attraction for travelers in the Mediterranean. Along with the temple of Artemis for the worship of Diana Ephesus is also a sacred place for the Christian faith because of the letter to the Christian Church there that we are studying. Several biblical figures are associated with Ephesus in the city’s history. The Apostle Paul, the Apostle John and the Virgin Mary.

The Christian Church in Ephesus was believed to be founded by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 18:19. The name Ephesus means darling, maiden of choice, or beloved.

This letter opens by addressing itself to the angel of the Church. Let us reference back to Revelation 1:20 from where I form my opinion as to who the angel of the Church is. “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20) There are two views as to who this angel is. One view is that the angel of the Church is the anointed Pastor of the Church. The Pastor of a Church is anointed by the Holy Spirit, appointed by God, who is chosen by God and led by God to lead the Church. Another view is that it may mean an angelic being that is “looking in” over the Church on the workings of the Church. Whichever is the correct interpretation the letter is addressed not only to the angel of the Church but to the whole Church.

Title

The second thing we see is the title of the One who is sending this letter to the Church. The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands. This then clearly points to the Lord Jesus Christ as we see stated in Revelation 1:20. Jesus is the One who came to visit John, Jesus is the One who has authority over the Church as the head, (Ephesians 5:23) and the One who the Church owes its affection to as well as its allegiance.

Jesus as the Head of the Church is the central figure in the Church. He holds the Church and holds His Church securely. He holds the seven stars which is the angel of the Church, either the Pastor or an angelic being guarding over the Church. Jesus holds the Lampstands which is the Church itself. The Church belongs to Jesus as He is the Lord. Not the leaders of the Church or the people of the Church but Jesus is the One who owns the Church.

Commendation

Jesus knows the works of the Church and it is no mystery to Him, He knows the one with a true heart and the one with self-centered motives and evil intentions. Nothing in the heart of men is hidden from Jesus, as He is the Word of God. (John 1:1) “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) “There are also working Christians who do not approach to laboring; yet a lifetime of such work as theirs would not exhaust a butterfly. Now, when a man works for Christ he should work with all his might.” (Spurgeon)

The saints of the Ephesian Church were faithful and they labored hard with patience. The word here for patience in Greek is “hupomone” and means “steadfast endurance.” The Church of Ephesus was rock solid in the work for the Lord. They endured that hardships and persecutions of the World

The Church at Ephesus also strived to be pure in the doctrine of the Apostles. They had adhered to the warning of Paul to remain true to the gospel message. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31) “This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wish some of the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them; for nowadays, if a man be clever; he may preach the vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it will go down with some.” (Spurgeon)

The Church in Ephesus worked tirelessly to have a great outreach and protected the integrity of the Gospel. They showed a godly perseverance that we as a Church should imitate.

Criticism

But I have this against you. All that the Ephesians were doing in the work of the Lord did not cancel out the bad that Jesus is about to describe. That you have left your first love. There was something seriously wrong in the Church, they had left their first Love – not lost but had left their first love. There is an important distinction between leaving and losing which is needful of looking at. Something can be lost by accident but leaving is something that is a deliberate act. It may not have been a sudden departure but a gradual one. When we lose something we don’t know where to find it but if we leave something we know where it is.

Though they had left their first love still it may have appeared that all was well. If you had attended a service at the Church of Ephesus you might have thought it was a happening Church. Their calendar may have been full of Church activity and they kept a close guard on the truth. You may have also experienced an uneasy feeling, it may have been vague and hard to pin down, but yet it was there. But even as everything looked well on the outside Jesus was able to see the problem clearly. Their problem was a serious one because without love all is in vain. (1 Corinthians 13:13) “A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. Lose love, lose all.” (Spurgeon)

What love had the Ephesian Church left behind? The Christian is commanded to love God and to love one another. (Matthew 22:37-39) Could it be that they left their love for God? Was it their love for one another that they left behind? It must be both loves that they left as the two loves go together. One cannot love God and not love His family and one can’t love His family without loving God first.

As we have seen in the commendation the Ephesian Church they were a working Church. It is possible to become so involved in working for Jesus that we forsake the love relationship with Him. We can be guilty of putting what we do for Jesus in front of who we are in Him. We can leave Jesus in the Temple just as His parents had. (Luke 2:45-46)

The Church of Ephesus was pure in their doctrinal teaching but a strong focus on the teaching can make a congregation cold, suspicious, and intolerant of diversity. “When love dies orthodox doctrine becomes a corpse, a powerless formalism. Adhesion to the truth sours into bigotry when the sweetness and light of love to Jesus depart.” (Spurgeon)

There is an excitement with a first love. But now for the Ephesian Church it was not the same as it used to be. It is not that we should expect to have the same excitement as when we first loved as love is an active effort to grow into a deeper relationship. But the Ephesians became so caught up in the work that they were doing they forsook growing their love relationship with their Lord. A love relationship is to grow and mature into a depth that makes the relationship even greater than when it was a first love.

Admonition

Do you remember the “good old days” when you were a new believer? There was great excitement as you started off on a new journey walking with Jesus. You were filled with great emotions and your prayers we often answered quickly. The Lord wants us to stay in that realm. Therefore remember from where you have fallen.

For the Ephesian Church the first step in restoration was to remember from where they had fallen. That means going back to where they were in their love for the Lord and one another. In the parable of the Prodigal Son he was in a pigpen and was depressed and wanted to change his situation. His first step was to remember from where he had come. To remember when life was good for him back at his father’s house. (Luke 16:17-19) This is always the first step in getting back into a right relationship with the Lord. Remembering from where we have come from.

Call

Repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent. ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

This is the answer, go back to where you were and what you were doing at first. Remember when you could not get enough of reading the Scriptures. When you would always show up at Church early because you could not wait for the services to begin. When the service was over you would hang around and fellowship with the Church family. Those days when you held a running conversation with the Lord from the time you would wake up till the time you retired for the evening.

To repent is not a command to feel sorry, or really to feel anything. Repenting is not godly sorrow. Repenting is changing direction, turning away from a bad practice such as sin. “It is an urgent appeal for instant change of attitude and conduct, before it is too late.” (Robertson)

Jesus is telling the Ephesians to go back to their first works. Get back to the basics, to do the very first things they did when they first fell in love with Jesus. These are the things that we should never grow beyond.

The first works are as such:

  • Remember how you used to spend time in His Word?
  • Remember how you used to pray?
  • Remember the joy in getting together with other Christians?
  • Remember how excited you were about telling others about Jesus?

Satan has done well in creating a sense of general dissatisfaction in the first works of the Christian. It is in the sinful human nature to run after new and strange things. We are always looking for new methods and programs for growth and stability. We have such shortened attention spans that make us easily bored with the truest excitement. Sometimes we will go all around searching for something better when the best can be found in our first works.

Removing the lampstand is saying that Jesus would remove the Church in Ephesus. As we recall the lampstand is the Church as we read in Revelation 1:20. If the Church in Ephesus does not repent Jesus will remove the light of His presence. There are Churches today that I question if they have a lampstand from which the light of the truth of God’s Word can shine. They are just religious organizations but no longer are Churches of Jesus Christ. They are as the Church of Ichabod where the glory has departed. (1 Samuel 4:21) “And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.” (1 Samuel 4:21-22) Today in Ephesus there are only the faintest remains of the Christian Church in Ephesus.

The Nicolaitans were a group of people that blended pagan customs into the Christian worship service. They would eat food that was sacrificed to the idols of false gods. They also practiced sexual immorality into their Christian worship. There is only one who is worthy to receive our worship and that is the Lord Jesus Christ and He is the primary purpose of the Church.

Challenge

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Check and see, do you have an ear or ears, if so then this letter is for you. This letter may have been written to the Church in Ephesus but the problems of the Church there are the same problems that Churches of today have. The Church today has become distracted with plans and programs. The programs and plans in themselves may not be bad but we cannot allow ourselves to become distracted from our first love by them. We are human beings, not human doings. We were saved by being with the Lord in fellowship and this is our life’s purpose. Let the Lord take care of the doings through us.

This letter was addresses to the Church of Ephesus, as the others were addressed to certain Churches, but the instruction was that each letter was to be sent to each Church. That means that this letter to Ephesus is also to our Church here.

Promise

To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.

Many think today that overcoming is only that in terms of sin and our battle in spiritual warfare. But what Jesus is telling us here is that we also need to overcome the coldness of our hearts and the lack of love by our departure of our first love. Our love for Jesus and the Father and for each other. The Christian must not let his involvement in good works and programs throughout the Church today in order to be good hard working members of the Church congregation distract then from Jesus. We must never allow these things to distract us from our King. We must take the time to know Him, to fall in love with Him because He first loved us and sacrificed Himself for us. If we do not take the time to know Him, then how on that day will he know us? “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

To those who overcome is the promise to a return to Eden, a restoration, and eternal life. This will be our eternal home in Heaven. This is no small promise to a Church that was threatened with the removal of the presence of Jesus Christ Himself. To hold onto our first love is to roll back the curse in our own lives by walking in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.

 

And where is that home in Heaven, that paradise? It is the place where God lives. Where God is would be paradise.

Prophetic Application

The Church in Ephesus represents the Christian Church of the first century. The Church was a force to be reckoned with as it challenged the religions of the day and the ideological institutions. The Apostle Paul had remained in Ephesus for more than two years on his third missionary journey. Paul’s teaching there of the gospel message of Jesus Christ led to a major conflict between Christianity and the worship of Diana, the Mother of the Gods. Paul’s preaching was effective in that many turned away from their idol worship upsetting the economy of the silversmiths. The silversmiths of Ephesus were involved in the manufacture of the idols. (Acts 19:26)

 

Our adversary, Satan, is taken aback when souls are lost to his sphere of influence. As a result of the rapid advance of Christianity in the first century AD the escalation of conflict between the Christians and the pagans brought on the inevitable consequence of persecution of the Church.

Pagan religions are a tool of Satan to counter God’s plan of salvation and to deny people’s access to the world’s Redeemer. Satan’s plan has always been one of deception to influence people to accept the counterfeit over the truth.

As the pagan god of Ephesus was Diana, the Mother of the gods the modern day equivalent is the worship of Mary as the mother of God. This belief system finds its roots in Ephesus. In 451 AD the Roman Catholic Church bequeathed the title “Mother of God” to Mary. In effect this revived the ancient cult in a modern garb.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, October 5, 2014

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